Rescue tubes left by volunteer help save visitors from rough waters

Photo courtesy: Kaylee Blevins
Photo courtesy: Kaylee Blevins

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Majestic Pololu Valley is one of the hidden jewels of Hawaii Island. It’s also home to one of the state’s deadliest beaches.

Kelly Hoyle was enjoying a Sunday morning hike when she noticed five swimmers in the rough surf. When she got closer, she heard screams.

“I ran to the beach and I saw five people were in distress They were screaming for help. The mother in the group was screaming, ‘We’re drowning! Help us,’” Hoyle said.

Hoyle remembered seeing two rescue tubes on the beach and unhooked them from their posts. That’s when a stranger came out of nowhere.

“He immediately took the rescue tube from me jumped in the other with the other one and swam out to the group,” Hoyle said.

The stranger was Kapaau firefighter and ex-lifeguard Jeff Maki, who quickly rescued three people.

Hoyle helped them to shore while Maki returned to other two. Hoyle was able to assist a young girl while Maki rescued their father.

“The rescue worker grabbed him pulled him up onto his back and carried him into shore,” Hoyle said.

The victim was airlifted out of the valley.

“If he wasn’t there and if those rescue tubes weren’t there, I think that family would never had made it,” Hoyle said.

The rescue tubes were installed by Mike Varney, who did so after rescuing a man at a remote west Hawaii beach two years ago.

“I went ahead on my own put a rescue tube at Kua Bay on the Big Island and then I put a second on a couple months later at Hapuna Bach Park and then I put the two up at Pololu,” Varney said.

Varney installed the tubes with his own money and was later reimbursed by Kukio Resort. He’s now working with the county to install more of them at beach parks.

The South Hilo Rotary Club has also installed about 20 of them.

“This is the second time I’ve heard the Pololu one being involved in an actual rescue,” Varney said. “It made me glad that I put them down there. That’s what they’re there for.”

Varney says installing them was the easy part.

“The real heroes are the people that take these things out there and save the people,” Varney said. “When it comes down to it, the real hero is that firefighter Jeff Maki.”

“Those rescue tubes absolutely saved their lives. No question,” Hoyle said.

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